Earlier this week, OKCupid changed their site so that Firefox users, on visiting the page, wouldn't be able to view it normally. Instead, they'd get a letter from OkCupid asking them to use a different browser. Why? Because, the letter explained, Mozilla Foundation, the organization behind the Firefox browser, had recently made Brendan Eich its CEO. Eich had previously donated $1,000 to an anti-gay marriage ballot measure in California.
Alex and I talked about writing about it, but we couldn't figure out what to say. I'm wary of stunts, and this felt like a stunt to me. Here was my thinking. Because OKCupid, as a dating site, appeals to people who are pro-gay marriage, I was suspicious that this was less about a tech company trying to dive into politics and more about an attention-grabbing stunt designed to appeal to OKCupid's target audience.
And then, two quick things happened today. First, OKCupid took the letter down, without explanation. And then, just now, Mozilla announced that Eich will step down. Mozilla's statement makes it clear that this resignation is about Eich's gay marriage stance.
“Mozilla prides itself on being held to a different standard and, this past week, we didn’t live up to it. We know why people are hurt and angry, and they are right: it’s because we haven’t stayed true to ourselves...We didn’t act like you’d expect Mozilla to act. We didn’t move fast enough to engage with people once the controversy started. We’re sorry. We must do better.”
There's still a lot we don't know here, but I was wrong in my cynicism. It seems like OKCupid helped draw attention to an issue that people cared about, and the resultant public pressure made Mozilla change leadership. I know OKCupid wasn't alone in this, but I'm sure they weren't incidental either.
It's funny. Of all the places on the internet where a tech company might jump into politics, you wouldn't necessarily think of dating sites first. And yet, because we're in a moment where who you can love is deeply politicized, dating sites are proving to be a bit of a culture war battleground.
On the other side of this continuum, I'm thinking also of eHarmony, who only allowed gay users in after TWO lawsuits (they created a segregated gay site first, then were compelled by a second lawsuit to merge). eHarmony's CEO has said that gay marriage "damaged his company."
The last thing I'll say about this is that I'm much more used to seeing boycotts that come from consumers or from political advocacy groups. I can't remember another time I saw a company initiate a political boycott against a company in their field. This feels different. It feels interesting.